In the clustered, clinically minimal market of lighting design, the seductive metal, rope, and glass amalgams of New York-based designer Lindsey Adelman have begun to shine through. Known for her sinuous, organic forms, Adelman’s signature branch chandeliers, in particular, have become wildly popular high-end interior fixtures. Their lean brass limbs budded with hand-blown bulbs fuse nouveau modernism with precocious DIY whimsy. “The structures I’ve made come out of an interest in function,” Adelman explains, sitting in a golden corona cast by one of her designs at her Great Jones Street showroom. “You have this idea of spreading out points of light in a space, then developing a system of material and energy, but then it ends up looking like a tree because a tree has already figured it out.” Adelman’s approach, which draws on a chosen “language” (metal and glass or glass and rope), often comes out of a clear, natural reference: the knotted, barnacley bubble lamps of clustered glass bulbs wrapped in heavy rope look like they might have simply washed ashore on a mythical island; the thorny-stemmed brass chandeliers might have been harvested from an enchanted forest. “It goes back and forth between being in that dreamy world of exploring and screwing parts together, and then checking in again and being like, ‘Oh my god, this is exactly like something I found at the beach,’ ” Adelman says. She has even recently let her clients into the assembling game by creating standardized You Make It lighting systems that allow infinite additions and permutations to her branching designs. For Adelman, light fixtures have a tendency to take on lives of their own.
Oddly enough, the 44-year-old Westchester native wasn’t born a natural builder. She recalls being intimidated as a child by the three-dimensional world, preferring to escape through reading. “It didn’t even occur to me to learn how to use a tool,” she admits. But in 1992, while working as an editorial assistant at the Smithsonian Institution, Adelman happened to wander into the Exhibition Fabrication Department and see an industrial designer sculpting French fries out of foam for a show on American work (“I think they were for a McDonald’s drive-thru set or something,” she says), and, eureka, Adelman immediately enrolled at RISD to study design, and while there, connected with the sense of wonder that animates all of her productions. “I think that’s what I’m hanging on to,” she says. “I’m nurturing that sense of play. It’s sacred. I won’t let anyone take that away or ever become so business-minded where that isn’t what drives me.”
Business, however, is now a major factor for her company, which started in 2006 and opened a downtown showroom in 2012. She handles commissions for clients that include Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen, Jennifer Aniston, and the St. Regis Hotel. Yet, for Adelman, “a childlike fascination with making things” continues to be the source of her work. “I get to a point where I think it’s right, but I can also keep going,” she says. “It’s like arranging rocks, which I do—I have so many little stones. I could keep arranging them in color order and think, How pretty, or they could all go right back onto a beach. I don’t feel like anything I’ve ever designed is perfect or done at all. Everything looks like it has dot, dot, dot next to it.”